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Posts Tagged ‘Angelique Kerber’

PostHeaderIcon Genie & Sabine, Roger & Milos: My Wimbledon Quarterfinal Previews, Part 2

Genie Bouchard (Jon Buckle/AELTC)

Genie Bouchard (Jon Buckle/AELTC)

LADIES

Genie Bouchard (CAN) [13] v Angelique Kerber (GER) [9]

Original Picks: Williams, Sharapova

H2H: Series is tied at 1-1

Far from disappointed at my failure to correctly pick this section’s quarterfinalists, it’s fantastic to see young Canadian Genie Bouchard set to battle against the crafty lefty, Angelique Kerber.

Genie is looking to make her third Slam semifinal of the season after strong showings in both Melbourne and Paris. (Compare that to Sloane Stephens who made the semifinals in Melbourne and pretty much hasn’t been heard from since.) She’s aggressive in her play, a gritty competitor, and wants to be at the top of the game.

I know I’ve said this before, but not many up-and-comers are truly “the real deal”. Genie is, indeed, the real deal! Even if Serena hadn’t lost to Cornet, I’m certain that Genie would have taken her out. Serena is the face of a veteran champion. Genie is the fresh face of the new guard that has little deference for the past.

She’ll need all of that moxie to get by Angelique, a solid player who seems to have found a new life this year on grass. At her best, Angie has tremendous defense, and a down-the-line backhand that she can hit from the most improbable of positions. Just ask Maria Sharapova.

Both Genie and Angie come into Wimbledon with winning momentum. Genie has the confidence from a semifinal run at the French, and Angie a finalist showing in Eastbourne. This could go either way on paper. Once again, however, my gut tells me to go with the plucky, opportunistic Canadian gal who’s starring in her own WTA version of ‘All About Eve’.

Genie Bouchard in three sets

Simona Halep (ROU) [3] v Sabine Lisicki (GER) [19]

Original Picks: Halep, Keys

H2H: Simona Halep leads 2-1

Simona leads the H2H, but Sabine’s history of winning Wimbledon results can’t be denied!

No matter how lackluster the rest of her season has been or will be, she hits the Wimbledon grass and becomes a different player, a much happier and more confident player.

Her forehand, always a potential weapon, is more lethal and penetrating. And her serve, another big weapon, can cause damage in much the same way as Serena’s. Add confidence to those two weapons, and you have a legitimate threat to go deep on the lawns.

This will be a big test for Simona, who hasn’t faced a heavy hitter like Sabine in her previous matches. Her all-court game and solid defense are generally good enough to help her on most court surfaces. Grass is different. The quick(er) courts/low bounces favor someone with weapons like Sabine. Simona, who lacks similar weaponry, will be at a distinct disadvantage.

More importantly, how can anyone go against Sabine and her history of improbable runs? Not me. Simona will fight hard but I’m looking at Sabine to take this one for a spot against Genie in the semifinals.

Sabine Lisicki in three sets

Roger Federer (Tom Lovelock/AELTC)

Roger Federer (Tom Lovelock/AELTC)

GENTLEMEN

Stan Wawrinka (SUI) [5] v Roger Federer (SUI) [4]

Original Picks: Wawrinka, Federer

H2H: Roger Federer leads 13-2

In spite of their lopsided match history, Stan did get the better of Roger earlier this year in Monte Carlo. However, that match was on clay. This match will be played on grass, a surface they’ve never contested, at a venue where Roger has had his most prolific Slam success. Just that fact alone leads me to favor Roger in this match, but that’s not the only indicator.

Roger is serving very well this fortnight. While he may not be the tournament aces leader, he also hasn’t been broken, and hasn’t dropped a set. Stan’s serving well too, but has faced more break points overall, and was broken 4 times in his 4-set match against Yen-Hsun Lu.

Familiarity might also play a huge part in this match. Stan’s familiarity with Roger’s game might help win a set, but not more than Roger’s familiarity with Stan’s game, and especially on this familiar court.

Wimbledon history also comes into play when you look at each player’s history at the Championships. Stan has never progressed past the fourth round. And aside from the occasional upset, Roger has won this title 7 times, been the finalist on one occasion, and a quarterfinalist on 3 other occasions.

It’d be foolhardy to ignore the cumulative effect of their lopsided match history, their current level of play, and Roger’s overwhelmingly winning record at SW19. Sorry Stan.

Roger Federer in four sets

Milos Raonic (CAN) [8] v Nick Kyrgios (AUS)

Original Picks: Nishikori, Nadal

H2H: Milos Raonic leads 1-0

I love it when a player proves me wrong, and such is the case with Milos Raonic in his first appearance in a Wimbledon quarterfinal.  For too many years we suffered the hype of this “young gun” only to see him exit early. But with the help of his coaching team and a ton of hard work, Milos has considerably improved his movement; which was his Achilles heel on grass (and clay). With better movement and improved shot selection, he’s been able to make inroads that once seemed improbable.

The best part of all is that the improvement in his overall level of performance has allowed him to relax and focus on what he does best: serve opponents off the court. Finally, he’s become the threat everyone thought he could be on this surface.

He’ll be facing Nick Kyrgios, an even younger gun who played the match of his fledgling career in taking out World No. 1, Rafa Nadal. However, Nick’s win was no fluke. He came out with confidence, served well, and smacked backhand winners at will.

More impressively, he played a tactically brilliant match by making Rafa play at his quicker pace. It takes a special kind of young player to have that kind of higher level tennis wherewithal, and Nick’s got it.

Experience counts for something though, and Milos has the greater experience at this level. This might be his first Wimbledon quarter, but he’s about as prepared to step into the limelight as I’ve ever seen. He knows exactly what his tools are, and how to use them when the stakes are high.

Nick will have to regroup after a big win, and come out playing perhaps a better match than he did against Rafa because of Milos’ serve. Playing Milos will be tough enough without the emotional letdown that happens after a big win. And though Nick is an impressive talent, I don’t think it’s gonna happen.

Look for Milos to face off against Roger in the semifinals.

Milos Raonic in four sets

PostHeaderIcon French Open Champs Maria & Rafa Sent Packing: A Wimbledon Centre Court Edition of Shock or Not

Rafa Nadal and Nick Kyrgios (Florian Eisele/AELTC)

Rafa Nadal and Nick Kyrgios (Florian Eisele/AELTC)

There were some shocking scenes on the courts today at Wimbledon…well, mainly on one court. SW19’s famed Centre Court became the graveyard of both reigning French Open champions today. Sharapova was knocked out by Kerber, and Nadal was sent packing by Kyrgios. Not content to play second fiddle, Serena was involved in her own drama on Court 1. Here’s a quick R16 “Check-In” Shock or Not before I throw myself into my second set of quarterfinal previews.

Angelique Kerber (Javier Garcia/AELTC)

Angelique Kerber (Javier Garcia/AELTC)

Angelique Kerber defeats Maria Sharapova: Shock or Not?  Big Shock.

In spite of the fact that Maria won her first Slam at Wimbledon, grass hasn’t historically been a great surface for her. She reached the semifinals in the two years following that win, but didn’t make another deep run until her loss to Kvitova in the 2011 final. Still, she’s a multi-Slam winner and great competitor. Her chances looked very good to face Bouchard in the quarterfinals.

Conversely, Angelique Kerber came into this match with a losing record against Maria. On top of that, she’d also had limited success at Wimbledon; usually exiting well before R16 matches like today. She did, however, reach the semifinals in 2012. I guess that taste of success was that she needed to upend the script in this match, and knock Maria out of contention for the rare French-Wimbledon double.

Maria’s 49 unforced errors probably didn’t help either…

Nick Kyrgios (Florian Eisele/AELTC)

Nick Kyrgios (Florian Eisele/AELTC)

Nick Kyrgios defeats Rafa Nadal: Shock or Not? Even Bigger Shock.

I had a strong suspicion that Rafa wouldn’t make it out of this quarter after looking at the draw. However, there was nothing that indicated young Nick Kyrgios would be the one to knock him out of contention. Sure, Kyrgios is a talented up-and-comer, but beating the World No. 1, a 14-time Slam champion, on Centre Court? No way, right? Unfortunately for Rafa, yes!

Nick came out on court acting like he belonged, and that he had just as much of a chance for victory as Rafa. He then proceeded to serve huge, and smack backhand winners from everywhere on the court. His forehand wasn’t quite as lethal, but Rafa nullified that aspect of the Aussie’s game by continuing to play his backhand no matter how many times he got burned.

There is a distinct brashness to Nick that could be off-putting to some: like the manner in which he jumps around on the court (like a victory dance) after big points, or the loud manner in which he excoriates himself after bad misses. Moreover though, he’s a breath of fresh air in a sport that hasn’t really experienced one since the appearance of Novak on the Slam stage. And that’s definitely a good thing.

Rafa was fairly gracious in defeat, but one could sense a smidgen of sour grapes when asked about his young opponent.

“Everything is easier when you are arriving. Everything is new, nothing to lose, everything is good, everything is positive. You can do whatever and everybody see just the good things on you.”

“We’ll see if he’s able to improve and to play at very high levels for a long period of time.”

However, Rafa did end on a laugh by saying “For me… beach!”

Nick was hoping to crack the 25k level of Twitter followers during Wimbledon. I’m sure he’ll have no trouble now. I’ll help him out by ending with his first tweet after the big win:

Serena Williams (AP)

Serena Williams (AP)

Serena Williams makes dramatic exit from Wimbledon Doubles: Shock or Not? Not.

Serena came out for doubles with her sister Venus, and it was quickly obvious that something was wrong with her. After a lengthy visit from the trainer and doctor after warm-up, the sisters decided to forge on with the match. It unraveled quickly, however, with a retirement from the match while trailing 0-3.

The initial word is that Serena was suffering from a viral illness. Given her previous medical episodes, I hope that it’s nothing serious. But honestly, if she was feeling as poorly as it appeared earlier, why not just stop. Did we really need to suffer through such an odd and sad scene? No.

In this current iteration, Serena is (in most ways) an excellent example of a champion. This was not the case earlier in her career when she was, admittedly, much more prone to drama queen theatrics. I’m not questioning the legitimacy of her illness, just the lack of judgment from both her and Venus in such a late decision to throw in the towel.

When the doctor tells you, “If you can’t see the ball, you shouldn’t play”, maybe you should listen.

PostHeaderIcon Serena Williams’ Tough Road to Number 6 at SW19: My Wimbledon Women’s Preview

Serena Williams and Patrick Mouratoglou (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

Serena Williams and Patrick Mouratoglou (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

As I wrote in my piece on Serena Williams’ Centre Court snub, few players can so effectively use perceived wrongdoings to their advantage as Serena. She generally plays her best tennis when she feels she’s got something to prove. However, this year’s Wimbledon draw is a pretty tough ‘ask’. Can Patrick help her get through it for a sixth Wimbledon crown? We’ll find out soon enough. Here are my thoughts on this year’s draw, and why I see no clear favorites for the title.

(* – Expected R16 matches)

Top Half, Top Quarter

Serena Williams [1] – Eugenie Bouchard [13] *

Wildcards: Cornet (Williams), Petkovic (Bouchard)

Angelique Kerber [9] – Maria Sharapova [5] *

Wildcards: Flipkens (Kerber), Pavlyuchenkova or Riske or Giorgi (Sharapova)

The expected quarterfinal match with Maria isn’t the tough part for Serena. That comes earlier when she has to get by Alize Cornet, the woman who sent her packing in Dubai. After that comes with a potential R16 match against the winner of French Open semifinalists: Genie Bouchard or Andrea Petkovic. Either will be a tough opponent at a stage in the tournament when a No. 1 seed might least expect it.

The bottom section presents its’ own challenges for Kerber and Sharapova. Kerber, finalist at Eastbourne, could be derailed by Kirsten Flipkens, last year’s semifinalist. And Sharapova has a particularly tricky trio to overcome with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Allison Riske, or Camilla Giorgi.

Each woman is capable of an early upset, and Maria will need to bring her “A” game right away. The same holds true of Serena. She’s got to be “bring it”, no matter what court she’s scheduled to play. Can they both do it? I think so, but there’s no guarantee that we won’t end up seeing a Bouchard-Giorgi quarterfinal either.

(UPDATE: I’ll update this quarter with the caveat that IF Serena successfully makes it to the quarters, she’s got a good chance of going all the way.)

Top Half, Bottom Quarter

Simona Halep [3] – Carla Suarez Navarro [15] *

Wildcards: Vinci (Suarez Navarro)

Ana Ivanovic [11] – Jelena Jankovic [7] *

Wildcards: Lisicki (Ivanovic), Townsend or Keys or Shvedova (Jankovic)

The top section of this quarter is likely to end with the expected R16 match between Halep and Suarez Navarro. Roberta Vinci could pose a slight threat to CSN, but I think the Spaniard has too much game to be derailed.

The bottom section of this quarter has much more potential for drama, especially after Madison Keys’ win in Eastbourne for her first WTA title, and first on grass. Add Taylor Townsend and heavy-hitter Yaroslava Shvedova to the mix and Jelena Jankovic is going to have a tough time making it to R16, let alone the quarters.

After vanquishing Jankovic, Keys could do the same to Ivanovic. From there, I don’t think I’d be going too far out on a limb in predicting a Halep-Keys quarterfinal.

Bottom Half, Top Quarter

Victoria Azarenka [8] – Dominika Cibulkova [10] *

Wildcards: Vandeweghe or Muguruza (Azarenka), Safarova (Cibulkova)

Sara Errani [14] – Agnieszka Radwanska [4] *

Wildcards: Garcia or Pironkova or Makarova (Errani), Kuznetsova (Radwanska)

It’s good to have Vika back in the mix, but she’s going to have virtually no impact at this Wimbledon. So look for the top section of this quarter to be about as wide open as you can get with Cibulkova, Garbine Muguruza, Lucie Safarova, and TopShelf champion Coco Vandeweghe all vying for the top quarterfinal spot.

On the bottom, look for Tsvetana Pironkova or Ekaterina Makarova to knock Errani out of contention. And depending on which Svetlana shows up in London, Kuznetsova has a chance at knocking out Radwanska given her current level of play. Grass isn’t her best surface, but you never know.

In figuring out the quarterfinalists, the top section is a crapshoot. Vika is a non-starter. Vandeweghe’s win at TopShelf doesn’t take away from her past inconsistencies.  Muguruza’s past Wimbledon results don’t bode well. And Cibulkova and Safarova are 50-50 crapshoots. For lack of any other compelling evidence, I’ll (half-heartedly) go with Cibulkova-Radwanska.

Bottom Half, Bottom Quarter

Petra Kvitova [6] – Flavia Pennetta [12] *

Wildcards: V. Williams (Kvitova), Stephens (Pennetta)

Caroline Wozniacki [16] – Na Li [2] *

Wildcards: Stosur (Wozniacki)

I’d love to see Venus Williams have a good run at Wimbledon, but there are too many dependencies for her to go deep. R16, however is doable if the weather isn’t too hot and she can minimize her court time. From there, maybe a quarterfinal match-up against Sloane Stephens. I’d give Petra more of a chance if she weren’t so inconsistent: a sad statement in reference to a former Wimbledon champion.

The bottom section will likely play out as expected with Caroline Wozniacki facing off against Li Na in the other R16 match. To be honest, I don’t expect a ton of great tennis, or even clean tennis. I do, however, expect them both to get the job done. They’ve never played each other on grass, but Li holds a 4-2 H2H lead. So the nod goes to her for the quarters.

I’m wary of more Sloane disappointment, but will go ahead and give her the nod in the top section for a Stephens-Li quarterfinal.

Quarterfinal Picks

Williams – Sharapova, Halep – Keys, Cibulkova – Radwanska, Stephens – Li

Notable First-Round Matches

A. Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) [26] v Alison Riske (USA)

Klara Koukalova (CZE) [31] v Taylor Townsend (USA)

Madison Keys (USA) v Monica Puig (PUR)

Coco Vandeweghe (USA) v Garbine Muguruza (ESP) [27]

PostHeaderIcon Ernest v Roger, Maria v Sam, and a Serena Photobomb: An R16 Weekend “Shock or Not”

Ernests Gulbis (© FFT)

Ernests Gulbis KO’d Roger Federer at the French Open (© FFT)

This weekend, while officiating in Napa, I was watching some spectacular play by the Napa Open juniors when I got a message from one of the site directors that Gulbis had beaten Federer. I instantly knew what had to be done, and began writing as soon as I got home last night. So without further ado, here’s my take on Roger’s KO, Maria’s escape, Serena’s photobomb, and a few other blips on my “Shock or Not” radar screen.

Ernests Gulbis defeats Roger Federer: Shock or Not? Absolutely Not!

Roger Federer (© FFT)

Roger Federer (© FFT)

On one level it’s easy to admit that seeing Roger leave Paris before the semifinals is indeed shocking, if not downright sacrilegious. But nobody, I repeat, NOBODY, should be shocked that Ernests Gulbis won this match. Though he’s easily one of the most enigmatic players on tour (in layman’s terms, flaky), Ernests is a modern-day Marat Safin: brilliant yet prone to long periods of having his head inserted firmly up his…well, you know where.

This year, after realizing that he’s often his own worst enemy, Ernests has worked hard to improve and show that he deserves a spot at the top of the men’s game. As a result, he’s enjoying a great year with title runs in Marseilles and Nice. He still runs his mouth too much for most people’s liking (“A woman needs to enjoy life a little bit more”), but is now mostly able to back it up with results.

Turning to the other side of the court, Roger’s loss had little to do with his age, his racquet, or his back. He might be older a step slower than in his prime, but he’s still one of the best in the game. Simply put, he was beat by the better player on the day: much like Sampras by the aforementioned Safin at the US Open. Brilliance is never eternal.

Also, though Roger would be loath to admit it, it’s hard to imagine that he can realistically maintain 100% focus on court with four children in tow. That slight dip is all it takes to make a huge difference in match outcome. (But they sure are cute, aren’t they?)

“The clay-court season was fun, but we are moving on.” Hopefully the grass court season will prove more fruitful for Roger. Good luck in Halle!

Maria Sharapova defeats Sam Stosur: Shock or Not? Not.
Maria defeats Sam by winning final 9 games: Shock or Not? Absolutely, and Absolutely Not.

Maria Sharapova (© FFT)

Maria Sharapova (© FFT)

The shock of this match comes with the fact that Maria won nine games in a row to come back from the brink. This is a feat usually performed by Serena as she adds to her Hall of Fame CV. In fact, Maria was the ignoble recipient of one such run back in the 2013 Sony Open final. Up a set and a break, she lost the final 10 games of the match in what surely must have been one of the most embarrassing defeats of her career.

I’m not shocked that Maria “Yes, I double-bageled Paula Ormaechea” won nine in a row. She’s one of the strongest competitors out there. I am, however, shocked that Sam buckled so badly and allowed her to do so. Admittedly, I didn’t see the match. So I’m at a disadvantage to comment on its’ specifics. But it pains me to see such a great player, a woman who beat Serena for one of the game’s biggest titles in “her house”, become so fragile.

Who knew that, in the absence of Serena Williams, Maria would “Serena” someone? Not I.

Apart from the manner in which it happened, there is absolutely no surprise that Maria beat Sam. She has an overwhelming 13-2 head-to-head against Stosur (now 14-2), and she’s beaten the Aussie on hard courts, clay courts, and grass. Given her own one-sided beatdowns that she’s received from Serena, it’s gotta feel good to be on the other side.

Serena Williams crashes wedding in leopard-print leotard and steals all focus: Shock or Not? Shock with a SMGDH!

Serena Williams photobomb from her Instagram account

Serena Williams photobomb from her Instagram account

Speaking of Ms. Williams, I have one thing to say: Come on Serena! We get it. You’re “all that and a bag of chips”. However, this was HER special day, not yours. I’m sure that you thought it would be a great moment for them when you joined them for pictures with your lovely leotard, but it was a moment that was all about you and not them or, more importantly, the bride. If you really wanted to honor THEIR special day, you could have sent Esther over with a check or some other gift. Next time, maybe?

Second-Tier Shocks

Ajla Tomlijanovic defeats Aga Radwanska: Shock or Not? Mini-shock.

The stats (30-10 vs 14-12, 13 career titles vs none) pointed to an easy win for Aga, but it wasn’t meant to be. However, a straight sets loss to the unheralded Croatian does bring up some pointed questions regarding Aga’s ability to maintain her top status while her body takes a huge battering. Tons of match play over the past few years seems to be taking a toll. Some suggest that she’s trying to make as much as she can, while she can. I hope not. Physio tape can only do so much to help her once she retires.

Eugenie Bouchard defeats Angelique Kerber: Shock or Not? Not.

In spite of some earlier clay disappointments, Eugenie is generally riding high in 2014. Angelique? Not so much. I’m not expecting an appearance in the finals, or an upset title winner, but Miss Bouchard is one heckuva poised, intelligent, and talented young lady!

Novak Djokovic crushes Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Shock or Not? Shock.

Three words: Come on Jo?!?!?! Six games? Really?

Sara Errani defeats Jelena Jankovic: Shock or Not? Mini-shock.

One would have thought that Jelena could finally turn the tables on a less-than-totally-fit Sara. Then again, one would have been wrong. Sara won in Rome, and now again in Paris. I guess Sara is immune to Jelena’s “tennis theater”.

 

PostHeaderIcon Wide Open for the Women, and the Big Three +1: My Indian Wells Quarter Picks

indianwells-preview

WTA

A Serena Williams-free BNP Paribas Open means a much more realistic chance at one of the year’s biggest titles for the other top women. Conservatively, I’d say that 6 out of the top 8 seeds have a realistic chance to win, along with a couple of other Top 20 outliers! If the chips fall the right way, it’s anyone’s title to win. Let’s take a look through the quarters to see which women have the best chances to make it through to the semifinals.

Top Half/Top Quarter

Li Na – Petra Kvitova

In spite of her Doha hiccup, Li Na has a great chance to take this quarter and go on to the final. She’s finally found a coach that she can hear, and a path that she can navigate to manage her emotions against her expectations. Besides Petra, there aren’t a lot of other women in this quarter, save Dominika Cibulkova and Ekaterina Makarova, who have a reasonable chance to beat her.

As for Petra, one never knows what to expect from her these days. Sometimes her fitness is good, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes she plays like a Top 10’er, other times not so much. That lack of consistency is why Li Na will move through to the semifinals.

Top Half/Bottom Quarter

Maria Sharapova – Angelique Kerber

With torch-bearing/commentary duties in Sochi, Maria’s had a whirlwind winter. Unfortunately, it’s led to a distinct lack of matches for a player who needs a lot of match play in order to reach her best form. A R16 loss in Australia and semifinal loss in Paris don’t bode well for her confidence. A healthy Flavia Pennetta could spell trouble: healthy being the operative word. There’s been no word on her recurring wrist issues, but you never know.

Angelique has a chance to make it from the bottom part of this quarter, but will likely be knocked out by a resurgent Ana Ivanovic, who leads their H2H 4-2. (Please note that I’m weary of referring to Ana as resurgent.) All things considered (Maria’s lack of matches, Flavia’s wrist, Angie’s losing record against her), Ana probably has the best chance to take this quarter.

Bottom Half/Top Quarter

Simona Halep – Victoria Azarenka

There are a couple of question marks in this quarter. The first is the status of Vika’s leg. She’s said that she still feels pain in it, but will attempt to play. But even if she does, I can’t imagine that she’ll have the sharpness necessary to make it out of this quarter.

The other is how will Simona react to the expectations of her new status? A first round loss in Brisbane was followed by a quarterfinal showing in Melbourne. But that was followed by another first-round loss, which was then followed by a title…and then another first-round loss. If the pattern holds true, she’s got as good a chance as anyone of reaching the semifinals. Then again, so does Genie Bouchard.

With Vika on the mend, look for the Simona/Genie winner to reach the semifinals. My gut tells me to go with the plucky Canadian, so I’ll go with Genie.

Bottom Half/ Bottom Quarter

Jelena Jankovic – Aga Radwanska

Jelena and Aga, the two highest seeds in this quarter, look to be the odds-on favorites to reach the quarters. Kaia Kanepi, Carla Suarez Navarro, Alize Cornet, and Elena Vesnina are all solid, but definitely not true contenders without Doha-like misfires from Jelena and Aga.

Since Aga leads their H2H 4-1, look for Aga to reach her second Indian Wells semifinal.

Quarter Picks: Li Na, Ana Ivanovic, Genie Bouchard, and Aga Radwanska

ATP

No disrespect meant to Andy Murray, but the Big Four is now temporarily back to being the Big Three (Nadal, Djokovic, Federer). Back surgery at the end of 2013 pushed back Andy’s preseason fitness timeline, rendering him less than optimal for this spring season. But he’s not the only one with performance issues coming into this tournament. Rafa got a title win in Rio. Roger got a title win in Dubai. Novak, however, has nothing to show for 2014.

When you add a guy like Grigor Dimitrov to the equation, you have some interesting title prospects in the desert. Let’s take a look at the men’s draw and see which guys have the most likely paths to the semifinals.

Top Half/ Top Quarter

Rafa Nadal – Andy Murray

There’s no way that Andy can get past Rafa at this point in the season. But Rafa’s place in the quarters isn’t assured either. He’s got a tough top section of this quarter with the likes of Alexandr Dolgopolov, Gael Monfils, and Fabio Fognini. He should make it by all three, but anything can happen in a best of three set tournament.

In the bottom section, Milos Raonic and Jerzy Janowicz have the best chance to make it through if Andy wobbles, which is possible given that his confidence isn’t at its highest. But he can take heart from some gutsy play to reach the semifinals in Acapulco before losing to eventual champion, Grigor Dimitrov. Moreover, Andy has better ‘tennis smarts’ than both and much better defense.

Look for him to reach the quarters before losing to Rafa.

Top Half/ Bottom Quarter

Stan Wawrinka – Roger Federer

Look for this quarterfinal to be a battle for Swiss bragging rights between the newly-crowned Australian Open champ and the Greatest of All Time.

Before that, however, Stan needs to get through a likely opening match against Ivo Karlovic. Even with 2 titles under his belt in 2014, Stan hasn’t played a tournament since his Aussie Open win. An upset isn’t likely, but it’s still a tricky match against an opponent who’s more than capable.

Roger, on the other hand, has probably the best path to the quarters of any top guy. Kei Nishikori is his only real challenger, and that’s not going to be much of a challenge for a guy who just notched some huge wins en route to a title in Dubai. Look for Roger to make it through to another meeting with Rafa in the semifinals.

Bottom Half/ Top Quarter

Richard Gasquet – Tomas Berdych

This is one heckuva tough quarter! At a glance, there are 5 guys with a legitimate shot at making it to the semifinals. In addition to Richard and Tomas, you can add Philipp Kohlschreiber, Grigor Dimitrov, and Ernests Gulbis. In terms of the draw, Richard and Philipp will battle for one quarterfinal spot while the Grigor/Ernests winner will battle Tomas for the other quarterfinal spot.

Richard lost to Philipp in Rotterdam, and has had an unspectacular year so far. So Phil looks good to get through on his side of the quarter. On the other, Grigor is on a roll now that the pieces of his game have finally come together. He should get by Ernests in a tough encounter. Tomas is at a higher level than Ernests, but will still be susceptible to Grigor’s newfound confidence, and superior defense.

In a battle between Grigor and Philipp, sign me up for the Bulgarian Express.

Bottom Half/ Bottom Quarter

Juan Martin Del Potro – Novak Djokovic

Honestly, I don’t know why Juan Martin is playing here after retiring due to wrist pain in Dubai. Defending points at the expense of further injury isn’t necessary or smart. Look for Gilles Simon to step up and make a run for the quarters in his absence (when he retires again). Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is in this section as well, but he’s become as unpredictable as Petra Kvitova these days.

In the bottom section, Novak could receive a test from Marin Cilic, but that’s about it. He might be struggling in the latter stages of tournaments against Nadal and Federer, but he’s still a class above everyone else. And that includes all the guys in his quarter.

Quarter picks: Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Grigor Dimitrov, and Novak Djokovic

PostHeaderIcon An Australian Open “Shock or Not” Weekend Edition Feat. A Serena Stunner

Serena Williams (Ben Solomon/Tennis Australia)

Serena Williams (Ben Solomon/Tennis Australia)

With the ouster of Serena Williams, the women’s top seed and prohibitive favorite for the 2014 Australian Open title, I felt compelled to write a quick “Shock or Not” celebrating the defeat of the current #1 by a former #1…along with a couple of other nuggets from the past two days. As always, let me know what you think about these matches, or some of your own that you think qualify in the “Shock or Not” category.

WTA

Ana Ivanovic defeats Serena Williams: Shock or Not? ALL CAPS SHOCK

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Ana Ivanovic (Ben Solomon/Tennis Australia)

Ana pulled off the stunner of the tournament by coming back from the loss of the first set to beat Serena in three sets for a spot in the quarterfinals. As fragile as her tennis has been at times during the past few years is as solid as she was against Serena. Her serve was solid, her service return was impeccable, and her forehand hurt Serena from start to finish. I was bothered by Patrick Mouratoglou’s immediate dismissal of Serena’s loss due to injury via “blocked back”, because it took the focus off of Ana’s brilliant execution in beating Serena for the first time in her career. Serena was gracious in her interview, and did her best to downplay Patrick’s injury revelations. She’s been burned enough times in the past for not giving credit where credit was due that she took great pains to compliment Ana. No matter though. The Serena Haters, however, will still find a way to hate…

Flavia Pennetta defeats Angelique Kerber: Shock or Not? Shock

Maybe it’s not so much the shock of this particular victory more than it’s the shock that Flavia has made it so far in this tournament. What looked to be a bad wrist injury at the Hopman Cup, the same wrist she’d had surgically repaired in 2012, turned out to be simple inflammation. With the inflammation gone, she’s quietly worked her way through to her first Aussie quarters; and maybe further.

Garbine Muguruza defeats Caroline Wozniacki: Shock or Not? Shock…kinda

Caroline started this year’s tournament on fire with the loss of only two games, but faltered badly in the last round; beating Christina McHale in three shaky sets. That’s not the kind of thing you want to do against a player who came into Melbourne on a roll after winning the title in Hobart. Garbine might not be a household name, but the World #38 has started the season strongly in 2014. Bye bye Caroline.

ATP

Grigor Dimitrov (Reuters)

Grigor Dimitrov defeats Milos Raonic: Shock or Not? Not

I’m not shocked by this result because these are two of the brightest prospects on the ATP horizon. The perpetual hype of “Future Grand Slam winners” is annoying, but that’s not their fault. Nonetheless, both guys “got game” (Milos has 5 career titles, Grigor has 1). And it was a great match of power serving and ground strokes versus excellent defense and all-court prowess. What’s really shocking is the fact that this is Grigor’s first-ever R16 showing i.e. making it past the third round at a Grand Slam.

Roberto Bautista Agut defeats Benoit Paire: Shock or Not? Not

Hate to put it so bluntly, but Paire is French, prone to temperament issues, and lost to Bautista Agut in Auckland a couple of weeks ago. Not the best combo for him heading into this match.

Easy Peasy

Rafael Nadal defeats Gael Monfils: Shock or Not? Not

It’s not a shock that Rafa beat Gael, but it is a shock that he beat him in straight sets 1, 2, and 3 after such a tight encounter in Doha. Gael has tons of talent, tons of flash, and (unfortunately) no substantial Slam results to back it up.

Dominika Cibulkova defeats Carla Suarez Navarro: Shock or Not? Not, but…

It’s not a shock that Dominika won this match, because we all know how well she can play. It’s extremely shocking, however, that she only gave up one game in giving Carla a bagel and a breadstick. She did the same thing to her second round opponent too. Can she make it a carbohydrate “hat trick”?

Men’s Dubs

No shocking matches in particular; just a general note that, besides the Bryan brothers, the men’s top seeds in doubles are dropping like flies.

Women’s Dubs

Alize Cornet/Caroline Garcia defeats Svetlana Kuznetsova/Samantha Stosur: Shock or Not? Not

This one should be a shock, but sadly it’s not. <shaking my head at Sveta and Sam>

Women’s Legends’ Doubles

Nicole Bradtke/Rennae Stubbs defeats Martina Hingis/Martina Navratilova: Shock or Not? Shock

Can someone please tell me how these two legendary Martinas got beat??? My mind just can’t comprehend that scenario. 🙂

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